What Are You Leaving Out?

It feels like I am back at school. I have drawn a few set diagrams (Venn diagrams) recently. So perhaps not surprising the following images came to me while listening to the new podcast from NPR called Code Switch.


These diagrams are so simple and powerful. As soon as I see them I start asking questions about why the lines were drawn where they were. The boundaries fascinate me.

But why this particular diagram? Why did this one pop into my head?

Because of the the space. The gaps. The parts of the population, data set, or whatever it is that you are not seeing or talking about.

Let’s take it step by step.

First, you have a population or set of data points. By drawing that first line you have immediately decided what is in, and what is out.

For this example, let us assume that this is the entire population. There is nothing outside this group.

It is human nature to immediately start separating out that population based on attributes that come to mind. In my post The Influence of a Category these are the colours of the rainbow that we see as distinct colours, but are scientifically a continuous spectrum of colour. It could be makes of car by engine size, colour, country of manufacture.

The point is that we create these groups easily and automatically. Without noticing.

Our background, culture, education, and life experiences influence how we define these groups. Our preferences are at play.

When we decide what is ‘in’, we also decide what is ‘out’.

My point in this article is that we forget about the ‘out’. We don’t pay attention to it. And if we aren’t paying attention to it, we are not considering it. We are not talking about it.

Look out for this as you go about your day. You will notice it everywhere.

Why did we ignore it? That is interesting and informative.

I recommend checking out the new podcast Code Switch. The first episode was challenging for me. In a good way. I am interested in how we talk about complicated topics. This quote from one of the guests, Catherine Orr who teaches at Beloit College, has stuck with me.

“And it has to do with understanding who you are in the room and the history of how you got there and also then allowing the questions that we’re answering in here to come to you in various situations – in your job, in your family and things like that.”

– Catherine Orr

This is what this post is really about. It is about understanding how your own experiences and behaviour led you to draw those boundaries. Your own preferences decide what goes in. We aren’t always aware what we leave out.

Challenge yourself and go have listen.

We can all get better at having good conversations about difficult topics.